24-year-old Abosede told Amnesty International how sickening police abuse left her with a permanent injury. “A policewoman took me to a small room, told me to remove everything I was wearing. She spread my legs wide and fired tear gas into my vagina,” she said. Military in Yobe state even arrested and beat a 12-year-old boy, poured alcohol on him, forced him to clean vomit with his bare hands and trod on him.
A report compiled over a period of 10 years by renowned international human rights organisation, Amnesty International, has detailed how the police and the military in Nigeria routinely torture women, men, and children – some as young as 12 – using a wide range of methods such as beatings, shootings and rape.
The report, which was published today, is titled “Welcome to hell fire: Torture and other ill-treatment in Nigeria”, and shows how people are often detained in large dragnet operations and tortured as punishment, to extort money or to extract “confessions” as a shortcut to “solve” cases.
Speaking on the report, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director, Netsanet Belay, said “This goes far beyond the appalling torture and killing of suspected Boko Haram members.”
“Across the country, the scope and severity of torture inflicted on Nigeria’s women, men and children by the authorities supposed to protect them is shocking to even the most hardened human rights observer.”
“Torture is not even a criminal offence in Nigeria. The country’s parliament must immediately take this long overdue step and pass a law criminalizing torture. There is no excuse for further delay”.
Amnesty said the report was compiled “from hundreds of testimonies and evidence gathered over 10 years,” and therefore exposes the “institutionalized use of police torture chambers and routine abuses by the military in a country that prohibits torture in its constitution but has yet to pass legislation outlawing the violation.”
The report also reveals how most of those detained are held incommunicado and denied access to the outside world, including lawyers, families and courts.
“Torture has become such an integral part of policing in Nigeria that many police stations have an informal ‘Officer in Charge of Torture’ or O/C Torture,” it said.
“They use an alarming array of techniques, including nail or tooth extractions, choking, electric shocks and sexual violence.”
In one illustrative incident 24-year-old Abosede told Amnesty International how sickening police abuse left her with a permanent injury.
“A policewoman took me to a small room, told me to remove everything I was wearing. She spread my legs wide and fired tear gas into my vagina,” she said.
“I was asked to confess that I was an armed robber…I was bleeding…up till now I still feel pain in my womb.”
AI said Nigeria’s military is committing similar human rights violations, detaining thousands in their search for members of the Boko Haram Islamist sect.
It further shared the testimony of Mahmood, a 15-year-old boy from Yobe state, who was arrested by soldiers with around 50 other people, mainly boys between 13 and 19 years old.
Mahmood told AI that the military held him for three weeks, beating him repeatedly with their gun butts, batons and machetes, pouring melting plastic on his back, making him walk and roll over broken bottles, and forcing him to watch the extra-judicial execution of other detainees. He was eventually released in April 2013.
Speaking further, Belay said the military in Yobe state even arrested and beat a 12-year-old boy, poured alcohol on him, forced him to clean vomit with his bare hands and trod on him.
“Soldiers pick up hundreds of people as they search for those associated with Boko Haram, then torture suspects during a ‘screening’ process that resembles a medieval witch hunt,” he said.
“Torture happens on this scale partly because no one, including in the chain of command, is being held accountable. Nigeria needs a radical change of approach, to suspend all officers against whom there are credible allegations of torture, to thoroughly investigate those allegations and to ensure that suspected torturers are brought to justice.”
“In most of the torture allegations against Nigerian state security forces documented by Amnesty International, no proper investigations were carried out and no measures were taken to bring suspected perpetrators to justice.”
“When internal investigations within the police or the military do take place, the findings are not made public and the recommendations rarely implemented. Of the hundreds of cases researched by Amnesty International, not one victim of torture or other ill-treatment was compensated or received other reparation from the Nigerian government.”
AI maintained that the Nigerian government is aware of the problem and has set up at least five presidential committees and working groups over the last decade on reforming the criminal justice system and eradicating torture, but the implementation of these recommendations has been painfully slow.
“Our message to the Nigerian authorities today is clear – criminalize torture, end incommunicado detention and fully investigate allegations of abuse,” Belay added.
“That would mark an important first step towards ending this abhorrent practice. It’s high time the Nigerian authorities showed they can be taken seriously on this issue.”